Excerpt of Rachel Lachmansingh's "Primary Organs"

I am six years old the summer Ma forgets her lungs on the front porch. Ma forgets her lungs all the time, like when she runs up the stairs too fast, but she always gets them back. Except today, Ma’s lungs don’t come back, and I know because she hasn’t grabbed where her heart is, hasn’t done a big breathe out, like I sometimes do when Mr. Pritchard teaches yoga.

Ma has never told me exactly what to do in case she misplaces her lungs forever, but my gut tells me to find Danny from Red House, the house across the road. “Your gut is your best organ.” Ma says this a lot. We’re not learning anatomy yet in Mr. Pritchard’s class, but I know this is true. Guts never leave you.

The soles of my sneakers stick-sticky to Red House’s driveway and leave happy faces wherever I step. I think this word is funny—sole. I first learned it in gym class, when Mr. Pritchard explained why squeaks sometimes come out of my feet when I run. “That’s your soul,” he said. Or maybe it was, “Those are your soles.” I named my sole Oscar.

“Oscar misses Ma,” I say to Danny, who is holding a telephone to his ear. Ma and I don’t have one of those anymore—a large silver brick with lighted green buttons that say 0, 1, 2, 3—all the way to nine.

Danny is a pretty boy. Ma also says this a lot, except for now because she’s forgotten her lungs over there, over on our porch. Danny is eighteen and three-quarters, and drinks piss from lemonade bottles with his friends, sometimes. At least that’s what I think it is—the liquid is dusty yellow, and I’ve seen Ma drink something that looks like that. Something that makes her mouth smell like the bread we sometimes make—with raisins. I always ask Ma to add raisins, though we rarely have them.

Today, I think Danny is prettier than usual, because his T-shirt has holes, my favourite shape that Ma sometimes calls ovals, and his eye-skin is purple—my favourite colour. Sun clips his forehead, and he shades his eyes with a squint that looks like he’s stuck on a math problem, like me when Mr. Pritchard teaches math.

Ma is still across the road. She also looks pretty today, red and glossy like the jam she sometimes shifts from the grocery store’s shelf to her purse. Ma is wearing the summer dress she picked off a table at a sidewalk sale—my favourite dress. It’s green, like our compost bin, red roses eating up the fabric like I eat up ice cubes when Ma has time to make them, and in it she looks like a flowerbed. She’s too far away for me to see her face, and I couldn’t anyway—Ma’s head is rolled down, her chin tucked into the fat of her neck. She is sitting on her rocking chair, and she looks so pretty, I have to tell her.

“Ma—your dress is a breathstopper!” I shout from Red House’s driveway. I hear this on the television sometimes. Ma leaves it on when she has to do something she calls graveyard shifts. I don’t know what graveyards have to do with anything, but I watch the television when she’s gone. The ladies on there look spotty because we’ve got a bad signal, but I still see them, holding up dresses like Ma’s, glittery things I learned are jewellery that Ma wants, but never has.

Danny twirls towards me, still holding the telephone, and I cup my hands against my mouth. “Your dress is a breathstopper!” I repeat, because she isn’t hearing right.

“Eileen, don’t,” Danny says, putting a hand on my shoulder. Danny’s hands are frosty, like how the windows get in December, and he’s missing a finger on his left hand—a pinky.

“But she looks breathstopping.” I point to the way some of Ma’s red glossiness melts into her dress, and makes the roses trapped in the fabric look even redder.

“I know,” he says.

“Guts are the best organs, you know,” I say, as Danny leads me with one hand up Red House’s driveway, and onto the porch. Almost exactly like ours, except Mrs. Red House keeps Ma’s favourite flowers in hanging planters above the door. How sweet that she knows they’re Ma’s favourite, that she must know we look at them when the electricity cuts out because they’re prettier than TV people. “Did you see Ma’s lungs?”

“Your mother’s lungs are still inside her, Eileen.”

“She forgot them on the porch, Danny. It’s why she isn’t looking up.”


As it appears in The Malahat Review's winter 2020 issue #213